Two days ago an officer of the Indian Army committed suicide in Pune while in the midst of a Court of Inquiry over allegations of sexual harassment, ever since then the endless hate and unverified information directed at the alleged complainant has varied from shameful to just pure disturbing, and a lot of it has been disseminated by the same people who won’t let their daughters out at night because India is not a safe place. Read how this dichotomy is at the heart of why we don’t believe victims in India.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
In India, we often see a horde of people come out in support of rape victims like Nirbhaya or most recently the case in Hathras and it makes us believe that as a country we stand beside our women. After all, why would millions of people march in the streets or light candles if we didn’t really feel like we needed to put an end to all this violence against women? Sure, we only come out in droves when the victim is a dead woman, but we come out, right? So we must care and want to make our country a better place for women. I mean, we march! We protest! The candles!
Okay, let’s put that aside for a moment and let me tell you a different story. Two days ago, a 57-year old officer of the Indian Army, Brigadier Anand Kumar Naik, committed suicide by jumping in front of a train at the railway station in Pune. That’s sad and I am sorry for the loss of his family and friends. The officer was allegedly facing a Court of Inquiry over sexual harassment charges by a young female colleague. After the news about the suicide broke, I started to receive some “news” via the preferred medium of media illiterates everywhere: WhatsApp. Most of it was just sentimental nuggets, but some of it was outright hatred towards the woman who made allegations against the man. Some of it blamed her for his death, stating it was an inordinate price for him to pay. Some of it claimed that the alleged victim was “friendly with many men” and the officer had only wanted to “counsel” her. Other, more vicious messages, claimed that modern women have become heartless and all complaints of sexual harassment are just designed to get revenge or settle petty scores. There is one theme in common to all of it though, all of the misinformation was based on the premise that the allegation of the woman in question was decidedly false, and definitely the cause of his death by suicide. He died, so she is definitely wrong and the cause of it, and not a woman seeking justice. This woman is hopefully alive and well, and decided to take action against being sexually harassed, where are our candles for her?
There are no candles because we do not believe her, and that is the curse of the victim who had the audacity not to die. We do not believe women in India unless we have no choice but to believe them. Let’s take this case itself. There is no public information about the details of this inquiry, only hearsay and rumours, the gist of which are that a complaint was made, this behaviour on the part of the Brigadier might have been repetitive, the enquiry has not yet been concluded and identity of the victim and the circumstances of the incident are confidential. As a journalist, I know not to take a call on this yet because definitive information about what happened has not yet been revealed by reliable sources, that’s something you don’t learn at the University of WhatsApp. So let’s discuss it hypothetically. Hypothetically, a woman made a complaint against a man who was a very-senior colleague and an avalanche of slander came her way immediately (sup M.J. Akhbar). Do you think she didn’t know that is what would happen? When women make complaints about male misbehavior, we know we’re going to take a social-hit for it because as a society we have much more sympathy for a man losing his livelihood than a woman losing her rights or dignity. For women, it’s a gamble to complain, and we have long-known how to do this math.
When your boss is inappropriate with you, you have to decide between a small chance of justice and keeping your job, that’s often a no-brainer. If you do actually opt for the justice part of this, immediately, people talk. There is an immediate assumption of a vengeful desire and suddenly every thing you do in life, like “be friendly with many” is up for scrutiny. The same people who put bullshit posts on social media about ending victim shaming, will say things like this while completely oblivious to the irony. The fact that a man is an army officer is not evidence of his innocence. The fact that the complainant is a young woman is not evidence of her lies. The fact that a man committed suicide is not evidence of his innocence either, Jeffery Epstein committed suicide too. Suicide is not the result of allegations, it is the result of the actions and decisions of the person who took that step. In some cases, it is a tragic result of untreated or unmanageable mental illness, and in others it may be a result of the inability to bear what you know is coming (such a social shaming or prison), but it is not evidence of anything. It’s not evidence that allegations are true or false. In this same situation if the alleged complainant had committed suicide, would we have believed her instead of him?
It took less than a day for people who don’t know any facts of the case to decide the complainant was cold-hearted, lying, a slut and responsible for his death. That woman could be any of us complaining about any man. The same people who pretend they are my friends would talk about me the same way if I had made that complaint. After all, they don’t even know the woman, it could have been me. It could have been my neighbour. My friend. Their own daughter. They would say the exact same things because our natural response upon hearing the complaint of a woman is that she must have been doing so because of an ulterior motive, even though the consequences of complaining are often much more severe than being complained about. We all remember what happened in the case with Chief Justice Gogoi, right? He’s in the Rajya Sabha, and she (and her family) lost everything. You think that’s the vengeful outcome women want when they complain? No, we know to expect exactly this. We’ve kept quiet for centuries because we know what happens when we complain about powerful men, or any men. Heck our Supreme Court offered up a victim of rape for marriage to the rapist in an attempt to keep the rapist from losing his government job in 2021. The Supreme Court. In 2021. The year of driverless cars and flying cameras. You don’t need to remind women that the system and society protects predators.
You don’t need to tell any woman that. Back in the day, when I was younger and messier, I was in an extremely abusive relationship: cracked bones, bruised ribs, constant-fear, the works. While now people ask me with endless judgement, why I wouldn’t leave such a relationship, back then whenever I insinuated or outrightly admitted to the abuse, most people doubted me and some (like his mother) outrightly refused to believe me. I was asked whether I may have misunderstood a playful shove as a punch in the teeth. I was told that girls like me these days think everything is abuse. Even today when I talk about it, it makes people uncomfortable either because they still don’t believe me or because they haven’t heard his side of the story. After all, maybe it was my teeth that fell on his fist real hard. After I left him, you can bet he went on to abuse other women, but I never complained publically about being harassed or assaulted again. There were no consequences for him, there were consequences for me, because I am a woman who is “friendly with many”; I am outspoken, I wear tiny clothes, I smoke cigarettes and swear, and that matters a lot more than the fact that a man pushed me down the stairs. It was never him on trial, it was always my character that was facing the jury.
And as much as we like to pretend, as part of TikTok trends and Instagram personalities, that we are woke, we treat survivors with doubt and disbelief. We’ve all heard that every woman has a story, right? I can confirm that, I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been the victim of a prosecutable act of sexual harassment or violence (and most of them actually believe they were “little things” because they weren’t penetrative rape), so either the contention is that we are all lying (which I think goes down much easier than the alternative) or that there are at least as many predators as there are victims. Yet it’s easier for us to behave as if a majority of women are lying, and a minority of men behave this way. It’s easier because we support it.
When people wilfully disseminate information about a woman they do not know and are comfortable shaming and slandering based solely on the fact that she dared complain about a man, they think all they are doing is forwarding messages they recieved but with each person who reads that message, the web of support for the predators increases. The choice to share that unverified and anti-woman information makes you complicit in the 30% conviction rate for survivors of sexual violence in India even if it’s entirely baseless and the alleged victim does not even exist. It doesn’t matter if you have daughters either, having daughters does not make you incapable of being part of the patriarchy, for fuck’s sake, women themselves can be a part of it. It doesn’t matter if you think sending a message to 20-people is a “small thing” and getting mad about it is an unreasonable response, you only think it is a “small thing” because you haven’t thought things through. Gruesome and heinous cases of violent rape do not occur in a vacuum, they occur in a society that lets men believe they could get away with it, and those messages, they form the bedrock of this society. As long as we, common people, continue to doubt women more than men even despite overwhelming evidence of the fact that women pay a much steeper price for standing up, we are part of the rape culture.
And we can say that the amendments to rape laws in 2014 made things easier for women, and for sure, they made it easier to report things and increased punishment for the accused if the case ever led to conviction (remember, 30%), but they had no bearing on being believed. They had no bearing on that because the onus to be believed still lies very much on the woman. We cannot even prove we were raped unless there is evidence of physical trauma inside our vaginas which means that any woman who is accustomed to penetrative sex is as likely to see her violator acquitted as she was in the 70s when the court outrightly stated habituation to sexual activity on behalf of the victim exonerated the rapists. Psychologist evaluations don’t hold up in court, our lifelong trauma is not evidence that we were violated, and if you were so “lucky” to be raped in a situation where there was no violence, you are also just as unlucky if you wish to see your attackers convicted. The maximum penalty for that is much higher than decades-past, but the likelihood of conviction is still just as low. The chances of being believed are slim and the possibility that you will spend the rest of your life being shrouded by the consequences of complaining are extremely high.
You can change laws, you cannot change the minds of people. We only march for the dead girls, because a woman has to be mutilated and destroyed for us to believe her. That’s the price. The rest of us, we’re just out to destroy innocent men with the PTSD we carry in our purses.